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Wed 26 Aug 2020 08:14 AM

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Lebanon service sector says will rebel against lockdown

Under the latest rules, malls, nightclubs, gyms, swimming pools, restaurants and coffee shops have been ordered to close

Lebanon service sector says will rebel against lockdown

Lebanon has registered 13,687 novel coronavirus cases, including 138 deaths.

A representative of Lebanon's hospitality sector said Tuesday that service and tourism businesses would defy a newly reinstated coronavirus lockdown that has compounded the crisis-hit country's economic woes.

"From tomorrow, we will open our doors," said Tony Ramy, head of the syndicate of owners of restaurants, cafes, nightclubs and pastry shops.

"The arbitrary and demagogic decision to close down, whether partially or fully, does not concern us anymore," he said in a televised statement from a Beirut street heavily damaged by a huge August 4 explosion at the capital's port.

An AFP photographer said dozens of people gathered in support of the announcement, some holding signs that read "Tourism is the pulse of Lebanon" and "For us, the state vanished with the blast".

The declaration, made on behalf of a wider tourism body also representing hotels and seaside resorts, came four days after authorities imposed a two-week coronavirus lockdown to stem a string of record-hitting daily infection tolls.

Lebanon said Tuesday 12 people had died due to the coronavirus pandemic in the past 24 hours in the highest such tally since Covid-19 arrived in the country in February.

The ministry of health also announced 532 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 13,687 including 138 deaths.

Under the latest rules, malls, nightclubs, gyms, swimming pools, restaurants and coffee shops have been ordered to close.

Restaurants, coffee shops and pastry shops can deliver but allowed between 6am and 6pm due to an overnight curfew.

Ramy blamed the government for the devastating explosion at Beirut's port and the huge losses it has caused the tourism industry, which he estimated at around $1 billion - including $315 million for restaurants alone.

He called on the sector to engage in "civil disobedience" against the state by severing commercial ties with the government and depriving it of tax money.

"We will not pay a single penny until we have a new state," he said.

Fines for transgressors

The interior ministry responded that it would punish those who flouted the lockdown, and urged Lebanese to act in the public interest.

"The interior ministry... warns it will not be lenient in implementing what the laws stipulate for transgressors, from issuing fines to referral to the relevant judicial authority," caretaker interior minister Mohammed Fahmi said, shortly before the country announced a record 24-hour coronavirus death toll of 12.

The coronavirus-related restrictions have dealt a fresh blow to a private sector already reeling from a series of crises.

Even before the explosion of a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate at the port that killed more than 180 people, Lebanon was grappling with its worst economic downturn in decades.

Poverty rates have doubled to more than half of the population, according to UN estimates, and tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs or a large part of their income as a result of the crisis.

The Beirut traders' association this week also said businesses wanted to re-open from Wednesday.

Authorities fear Lebanon's fragile health sector would struggle to cope with a further spike in novel coronavirus cases, especially after some hospitals near the port were damaged or taken out of commission in the explosion.

Lebanon's health minister warned this month that hospitals were reaching maximum capacity to treat coronavirus patients, after the blast overwhelmed clinics and triggered a spike in Covid-19 cases.

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